TIGER Woods walked off the golf course this morning to see his name atop the leaderboard in the Australian Open. Even more pleasing to him was the way he got there.
With control of his shots and comfortable over the putter, Woods put together his best back-to-back rounds of the year with a 5-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead at The Lakes.
It's the first time he has led a tournament since the third round of the Chevron World Challenge last year, and the first time against a full field since his last win two years ago in the Australian Masters. Woods was tied for the first-round lead at The Barclays last year.
"I really played well," Woods said. "Even though I shot 5 under, it felt it could have been 8 or 9 deep."
He was at 9-under 135, one shot clear of a familiar name in these parts -- and to Woods.
Peter O'Malley is a member at The Lakes and birdied his last two holes for a 66. O'Malley is memorable to some golf fans in the United States as the No64 seed who beat Woods in the opening round of the Match Play Championship at La Costa in 2002.
Jason Day, who played alongside Woods, managed to limit the damage from a few wayward shots and had a 68 to finish two behind.
Bubba Watson, among eight Americans who came to the Australian Open to get ready for the Presidents Cup next week at Royal Melbourne, birdied his last three holes for a 70 and was three shots behind.
"He has more shots in the bag than me right now," Day said. "He hit some shots that made me go, 'Wow'. I feel that I can play a lot of different shots, but some of the shots that guy hits, especially around the greens, are amazing. He is always in control and always composed.
"I think where he is right now is good enough to win. I think you'll find if he keeps going the way he is going, he'll win over the weekend."
Nick Watney faded on the front nine and shot 73, though he remained in the picture at 5-under 139.
Woods repeated that he has been hitting the ball this well in practice at home in south Florida, and based on the other times he has changed swings, he referred to the process of getting confidence in practice and eventually taking it on to the golf course.
"That's progress. That's what happens," he said. "And once it starts coming, the confidence is building."
The Presidents Cup captains both made the cut. US skipper Fred Couples shot 74 and was at 3-under, six behind Woods. International team captain Greg Norman also shot 74 and was at 1-over, 10 behind.